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Year 12 Trident High School volleyball, netball and touch player Phoenix Paniora hasn’t had much time to catch her breath over the past couple of years. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love my sports, I don’t know where I would be without my sports,” Phoenix told College Sport Media this week.
Most recently, she was named as the girls tournament MVP at the NZSS secondary School Volleyball Championships in Palmerston North, after helping her Trident team win the Division 1title for the first time.
She also plays netball and Touch rugby, having played for both her school and for Bay of Plenty representative sides on a regular basis over the past few years.
Over the next two months, Phoenix’s main focus is volleyball, and for good reason too.
“I’m taking a break from representative netball over the next couple of months as I’m going for selection for the New Zealand senior women’s volleyball team, and if I make that we go to the Philippines in August”
But first she hopes to make the Bay of Plenty team for the Women’s National U20 tournament in Wellington on Queens Birthday Weekend at the start of June. The New Zealand senior women’s team trials follow that and the 2017 Asian Women's Volleyball Championship is in Manila from 9-17 August
She’s already had a taste of playing for New Zealand. “Last year I made the New Zealand U17 Youth team and we went to Florida. That was a great experience; it really opened my eyes to see what was out there. The competition was strong and very challenging, considering that in New Zealand we are not very tall and then I got a bit of a fright from that.”
In March Phoenix was part of the New Zealand U18 Women’s volleyball Team that finished eighth in the Asian Youth U18 Girls Volleyball Championship in China.
Returning home, another major highlight for Phoenix was winning the NZSS title at the end of March. “We were fighting for that number one position and we were motivated by the fact that Trident High School had never won before so we wanted to be the first ones to win the tournament for our school.
Trident beat Rangitoto College 3 sets to 1 to win their quarter-final, defeated Burnside High School 3 sets to 1 in their semi-final and overcame New Plymouth Girls’ High School 3 sets to 1 in the final. Overall Trident played and won nine games in five days, winning their matches by a combined 27 sets to six
Phoenix and teammate Mana Kume made the tournament team, Phoenix selected for the second consecutive year, while Phoenix was surprised to be the 2017 tournament MVP. “All my friends were telling me at the time that you’ve got the MVP and I was just staying humble and thinking that I’d be happy for the person who did and I was just so happy to get it myself.”
Phoenix primarily plays as a setter, controlling the tempo of her side’s attack and setting up their winners. A position that carries a lot of responsibility.
“It’s a hard position to play at times because setters usually control the structure of the court and they know what to do and what the hitters want. Coming from a sporting background, my mum was a setter so she teaches me stuff to help my team and how to win points.”
“Mum [Sheralee Mills-Paniora] played volleyball for New Zealand. “She started playing volleyball for New Zealand when she was 17. I was 16 last year when I went to Florida. She went to Kawarau College and they won the NSSS nationals as well, so I just wanted to follow in her footsteps with Trident this year.”
Phoenix has been playing volleyball since year eight. “I started it then and I liked it. Graham Walker was my coach when I started high school and he helped me start my volleyball career.” In 2014, Trident won the NI Junior Secondary School Volleyball Nationals, setting the foundation for this year’s Senior NZSS win.
As well as volleyball, Phoneix has also played in numerous representative netball and Touch teams.
At the start of this year, Bop finished fourth at the Junior Touch Nationals, while last December Trident High School finished 14th at the NZSS Touch Nationals.
“My dad played Touch, so I that’s how I stared playing that. I didn’t really like it at first because it was hard and tiring. But when I got older I developed my skills and started to love it as well.”
Last year Trident High School finished 14th in the A grade of the Upper North Island Netball Championships. The top six finishing schools qualified for the 16-team NZSS Championships. “We have been in the A grade for a couple of years now. We have a young team, so hopefully we’ll keep improving.”
She’s still got another full year of school to come in 2018, but after that Phoenix hopes to gain a volleyball scholarship in the USA or to go to university in New Zealand and study Physical Education.
She thanked the people who have got her thus far: Hemi Barsdell, Sandy Barsdell, Graham Walker, her mum Sheralee (all volleyball) and TeAhuru Waititi (netball). “I’m grateful for all the support of these people. My netball coach TeAhuru helped me build up my confidence and leadership skills.”
Team unity and strong courtside support were to two factors that carried Trident High School’s Senior A Girls volleyball team to the NZSS title win in Palmerston North last Friday.
Captain Courtney McConkey explained how both helped Trident’s team overcome a strong field to be the best team in New Zealand in 2017.
“Five of us have been playing together since 2014 and we won the Junior North Islands that year together, and other players that have joined us since then have all fitted in well, we’re really close-knit and that helped us win some tight games, “ Courtney enthused.
“We also got a big boost from our supporters. We were surprised that so many came down from Whakatane to Palmerston North to cheer us on, plus some of the other Bay of Plenty schools got in behind us in the final against New Plymouth Girls’ High School. Seeing so many people dressed up in Trident colours really lifted us.”
After beating them in the first game of the tournament earlier in the week, Trident beat New Plymouth GHS 3-1 in the final, but it was much closer than that. Trident won the first set 25-17, but New Plymouth came back to draw level by taking the second set 25-23. Trident took the third set 25-16 and then held off a spirited Taranaki challenge to win the fourth 25-22.
“When that final whistle blew and we knew we had won it was a huge relief for us all, “Courtney said of Trident’s maiden NZSS Senior Volleyball victory.
She explained how tight their penultimate match was. “Our semi-final win over Burnside High School was more intense than our final. Burnside were the two-time defending champions and they hadn’t been defeated all year in winning the South Island tournament and hadn’t dropped a set prior to getting to nationals.”
Trident found themselves down 0-1 (23-25). “We were behind but we just kept fighting and growing together and pushing, and they stayed the same and started dropping off.” Trident won the second set 25-19, the third 25-22 and the fourth 25-23.
“Our quarter-final match against Rangitoto College was also pretty close for us. In the fourth set we were down 18-23 but came back and won it.”
Two Trident players made the Girls’ tournament team – Phoenix Paniora and Mana Kume. Year 12 Phoenix was the Tournament MVP.
Overall the team played and won nine games in five days, winning their matches by a combined 27 sets to six. The Girls tournament featured 97 teams, with games running all week from 8.00am to as late as 11.30pm at night.
There’s no resting on their laurels for Trident’s winning volleyballers, with inter-provincial team U17 and U20 team trials coming up this weekend and many players hoping to make these squads. Members of the team also play other sports, such as netball and football in the winter and then Touch in the summer.
Of note, both Trident High School and Manurewa High School were the respective Girls and Boys Junior North Island tournament winners in 2014 and both went on to win the Senior titles in 2017.
Trident High School’s results:
Defeated New Plymouth 3 sets to 1
Defeated Otumoetai College in 3 straight sets
Defeated Marlborough Girls’ College 3 sets to 1
Defeated Matamata College in 3 straight sets
Defeated St Mary’s College 3 sets to 1
Defeated Manurewa High School in 3 straight sets
Defeated Rangitoto College 3 sets to 1
Defeated Burnside High School 3 sets to 1
Defeated New Plymouth Girls’ High School 3 sets to 1
The Trident High School team was:
*Courtney McConkey (captain), On Court Captain: *Mana Kume (on court captain), *Haley Wiremu, *Sharnaye Hall, *Phoenix Paniora, Maddisen Atkinson, Khiarna Williams, Alana McConkey, Tayla Hudson, Kilani Ruri (* five players that also won the North Island Junior title in 2014).
Management: Coach Hemi Barsdell, Ass Coach Sheralee Mills- Paniora, Ass Coach Maia Westrupp, Manager Sandie Barsdell - Graham Walker has also been instrumental in these girls success having coached the girls for many years.
"We choked in the final against Westlake Boys', thrown off by the pressure of the crowd we lost each set closely. Going home with the silver medal was very hard to take and it took a long time to bounce back." Claire Hunter frankly admits of Manurewa High School’s 2016 National Secondary Schools volleyball final defeat.
The manager of the senior team was much happier on Friday as Henry Ap’e led Manurewa to National glory, a title the best part of four years in the making.
"We trained pretty much every day and some of us have travelled to Fiji, Thailand, America, Wellington and Nelson to play with school, rep and club teams. I am really proud of the boys," hailed Ap'e.
For the past three years Manurewa have been the Auckland Senior Champions. Most of the team members have been involved with the squad since 2014, a breakthrough year for Manurewa volleyball.
"I started playing volleyball a few years before College. I started taking it seriously in Year 9. In 2014 we won the junior Auckland and North Island titles. I love the thrill of the game and the team culture," Ap’e enthuses.
In 2015 Manurewa bombed at Nationals and finished in a disappointing ninth place. Ap’e, a New Zealand age-group rep, became captain in 2016 and was identified as a suitable skipper because of his natural leadership skills.
"My job is to encourage the boys and be as positive as I can. We have so much talent here. The future is really positive too," Ap’e says.
With the memory of 2016 spurring them on, Manurewa steamrolled their way to the Auckland title dropping just three sets to Takapuna Grammar School.
At Nationals Manurewa breezed through their initial pool games until they come unstuck against perennial powerhouse Western Heights High School. Was there are fear things could become implode again?
"It was disappointing to lose to Western Heights, but we had to stay positive. It was a mental thing." Ap’e insists.
Western Heights would be the side to unravel as Manurewa regrouped to make the final against Orewa College, a school they had trounced in the Auckland competition.
"The strategy for the final was to play our own game. There is a big difference between Auckland and Nationals so we had to bring our A game, but our own game." Ap'e says.
Manurewa made an assured start and captured the first set 25-16. Two close sets followed, but Manurewa avoided the mistakes of the previous year to prevail 25-23, 25-23.
"I was actually a bit sad after we won because it was then I realised it would be my last game of volleyball for Manurewa. It's so exciting. It's a great achievement by the team." Ap’e reflects.
Ap'e, the Auckland MVP, won't be playing his last game of volleyball. He is hunting a scholarship in the US and was approached by agents at Nationals.
Manurewa is a decile one school so money to support the program isn't always easy to come by. PlaceMakers and Auckland Motors Mitsubishi have been particularly keen supporters.
Three Manurewa High School players made the tournament team: Wanyae Suafo’a
Henry Ap’e and Tala Potifara (Tournament MVP).
Huge shout out to 2017 NZ Secondary Schools Volleyball Champions Trident High School (girls) and Manurewa High School (boys). But also a great to see a number of students from various schools making the two tournament teams.
Boys Tournament Team
Billy Johnston - Western Heights High School
Tyran Gillespie - Western Heights High School
Jac Roberts - Takapuna Grammar
Ryan Forlong - Tauranga Boys High School
Tane MacDonald - Waimea College
Ryan Gunn - Rangitoto College
Jed Melvin - Orewa College
Cameron Dooley - Orewa College
Henry Ape - Manurewa High School
Wanyae Suafoa - Manurewa High School
Keenan Hodge - Takapuna Grammar
Tala Potifara - Manurewa High School
Girls Tournament Team
Theresa Ngata - Aorere College
Maya Dickson - New Plymouth Girls High School
Indiana Aiono - St. Mary’s College
Leni-Lia Moananu - St. Mary’s College
Renae Watson - Rangitoto College
Jasmine Milton - Rangitoto College
Tamara Otene - Westlake Girls High School
Ariane Pola - Westlake Girls High School
Chloe Mikaera - Burnside High School
Marlene Jahn - Burnside High School
Mana Kume - Trident High School
Phoenix Paniara - Trident High School
College Sport Media is dedicated to telling the story of successful young sportspeople in New Zealand